My Conversation with Riley Sheehey

Riley Sheehey is an exceptionally talented artist specializing in watercolor illustration. Her artwork is full of whimsy, pastel charm, and a sense of lightheartedness. Riley initially caught my attention with an illustration she made of me sitting in a bedroom that is covered with our Sister Parish Dolly print. Her watercolor rendition of the Dolly print perfectly captures the old world charm of this quintessentially “Sister” print. 

Riley studied arts education at school, and was a teacher for six years. On her summers off, she would take camp counseling jobs on the side. During the summer of 2014, however, she decided to take her summer vacation in a different direction, and opened her first Etsy shop. At first, she tried to sell mason jars that she had painted, which ultimately proved unsuccessful. She then moved in a different direction, posting pictures of her watercolor paintings, and making watercolor gifts for her friends who were getting married or having babies at the time. Riley would receive commissions from her friends to make watercolor wedding portraits, save-the-dates, and invitations. With this side of her business gaining traction, she was able to go full-time with her art practice in 2017. 

Every artist has an influence or source of inspiration which they continuously draw from, and Riley’s influences are plainly seen in her own work. During her childhood, she remembers being captivated by the illustrations in the childrens’ books around her, such as the Madeline series and Roald Dahl stories. Her love of childrens’ books only increased during her tenure as an elementary school teacher, where she was constantly surrounded by them and gained a strong familiarity with the illustrations’ visual feel. Riley loves the charming imperfection of the drawings made by Quentin Blake (the illustrator of Roald Dahl’s books) and Ludwig Bemelmans (illustrator of the Madeline series), and emulates that style in her own work.

One of Riley’s earliest projects was a commission from Dante NYC, a restaurant with a rich history reaching back to 1917. The new owners reached out to Riley after seeing her work on Instagram, with a request for Riley to create artwork for their bar. From there, Riley has been working with Dante NYC on multiple projects, such as watercolor illustrations that are printed on their coasters, postcards, and packaging. Most recently, Riley created a series of paintings and designed a wallpaper that will hang in their second location. Riley describes the wallpaper design as a series of vignettes that tell the story of life in New York City. 

This year, Riley has been working with interior designers on watercolor renderings of the spaces they create. Riley says that she’s been having so much fun with these projects, and is so inspired by interior designers’ ability to mix and match color and pattern. It’s remarkable how Riley’s watercolor illustrations are able to elevate the feeling of a room, capturing far more than a photograph would be able to. Riley has also recently begun experimenting with mixed media, shaking up her usual watercolor routine. She’s teaching herself how to paint with acrylics on a variety of surfaces: seashells, picnic baskets, clothing, purses, and even bottles of champagne. Riley is currently working with us on a special project for the holiday season – stay tuned for the big reveal! To learn more about Riley Sheehey and hear our full conversation, click here!

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